Sunday, April 22, 2007
In the town of Westfield, across from a holy-roller church....
There is this non-descript bar named Rally's.
It is the sort of place where the management thinks it wise to warn the clientele with a sign like this:
In other words, my kind of place - where my kind of people gather!
The Pine Point Cafe was once such a place. A place where anything might happen, because no one has anything left to lose that might hold them back. I don't look for trouble, in fact I give it the slip whenever I can, but we are old companions and it knows my ways. I feel a vague sense of danger in the air, I don't know from where but I've learned to trust my instincts on such things about such places. I don't think my taking pictures went over very well, although no one said anything. Just the same, they don't trust people with cameras in a place like this. A lot of people here maybe don't want to be seen, by ex-wives, law enforcement or whoever. I overtip the bartender and walk out of the joint into the street.
Actually I'm just killing time until my sister gets out of work so we can go out to eat somewhere. I decided to take a little walk to where I saw something a week or so ago that stirred my interest. It was what appeared to be a very old cemetery, but from where I saw it the place was fenced in and I couldn't see where the entrance was. I went to the same location, determined to search for the entryway.
My interest in cemeteries is not rooted in a morbid fascination with death, but with a healthy fascination with history. Oftentimes people's graves are the only permanent record they create of themselves. You can learn a lot about a community and its past eras by visiting the town cemetery. They tend to be contemplative places as well, and once you get past their somewhat somber purpose, they can be peaceful places of beauty.
This old cemetery's location reminded me of the cemetery in Amherst where Emily Dickinson is buried. It was originally on the outskirts of town, but as the town grew it eventually completely surrounded the cemetery, concealing it from view from most angles. I knew however that if I just followed the streets wherever I saw the cemetery fence that I must eventually come to an entrance.
So I shuffled down lonely streets....
Past the old factory and a row of houses....
And sure enough I soon arrived at the official entrance to what was appropriately called The Old Burying Ground.
Unfortunately, the entrance was firmly padlocked shut! What a disappointment after having gone to all that trouble! I considered trying to jump the fence, which wasn't all that high, but I didn't like the sharp barbs on the Victorian era fence. One slip and there go the family jewels!
But surely that can't be the only way inside. Then it dawned on me - there must be an alternate way in, and any kid in the neighborhood would know where it was! So I went in search of a kid, and didn't have to walk too far to find one. Just a few doors down I spotted this Hispanic kid playing in a yard all by himself. From the music he was humming and the poses he was striking I suspected he was pretending to be a Power Ranger. I startled him a little when I spoke to him, but his kid safety radar quickly assured him I was cool. Is there another way into the cemetery? He smiled and nodded that I should follow him across what proved to be several backyards. We were disrespecting all property rights, but kids have no sense of that and being in the company of a kid I too was immune. Finally, we came to a place where the cemetery fence had been bent up at the bottom and bent down at the top. So by either climbing or crawling, you could get inside.
Not wanting to crawl on the ground, I decided to climb over, but before doing so I asked my young friend to pose like he was going to climb under the fence, as a picture that would serve as a demonstration for you, dear readers. He was glad to, but then suddenly a woman appeared. "Juan!" she shouted. "Get in the house!"
"But Mom!" he protested.
"Get in the house now!" She commanded, then she shot me a look like I was something she had found on the bottom of her sneaker, only there was a little fear mixed in there too. Sheesh! Sorry lady, but I'm not on the sexual offenders list! People are so paranoid these days, it's really pathetic. Anyway, here's a picture of the secret entrance way, but without the kid.
Once inside, I quickly realized that this place was well worth the trouble getting in. These were really old stones, going back to the earliest colonial times. Here is the tombstone of someone who died just a few weeks before America was born.
Notice the head with wings on the side that appears on top, signifying an angel. Almost all the oldest stones have that image, which along with being decorative, was meant to suggest the role in which the dearly departed was now engaged.
In this case they preferred people wearing hats:
Here is the oldest gravestone I could find. It was for someone with the last name Root who died in 1687. Wow, that was a long time ago!
So I suggest to you that you devote some time some day to checking out Westfield's Old Burying Ground. Hopefully you will find it open, but if not, track down a kid to show you the other way in.
Say what you will about Raipher Pellegrino (I have) but credit must be given where it is due, and I must say I'm impressed by what he's done to restore that beautiful but ramshackle old house that stands next to Classical on State Street.
Frankly, the house was in such a state of decline that I would have thought it impossible to salvage, but Pellegrino has impressively saved it from the wrecking ball and given it new life. Well done!
Finally, here's Jay at a recent appearance.